2020 Age-Technology trends
Innovative technology is giving an upgrade to the look, feel, and function of hearing aids, medical alert wearables and other traditional devices associated with older adults. What’s more, a growing number of older adults are connecting to this new technology and reaping health benefits from digital devices.
Voice-enabled home assistant devices, for example, are not only providing the latest weather report but also giving answers to medical questions.
A technology survey conducted by AARP found that nearly 1 in 7 adults over 50 years old own a voice-controlled home assistant device, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
Mayo Clinic, for example, provides first-aid advice on non-life-threatening issues through these assistants. So, rather than calling the clinic and waiting on hold, a virtual assistant owner can say, “Hey Google, talk to Mayo First Aid and tell me about spider bites.”
Virtual assistants are also being built into medical devices. Older adults, for example, can ask Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, to stream a phone call into their digital hearing aids. In addition, seniors who fall while wearing a smartwatch with a built-in Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) can rely on the watch to detect the fall and initiate a call for help.
The AARP survey also found that more than 55 million Americans over 50 years old are interested in technology that can improve their lives.
It Started with Smartphones
Smartphones served as the launching pad for technology that benefits older adults. Seniors may have started their technological journey in the 1990s with flip phones that were used only for talking, and later for sending text messages. But, smartphones have fully connected seniors to the 21st century.
According to the AARP survey, the belief that older adults have no interest in smart technology is simply not accurate. The survey found that 80 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 have smartphones, about the same percentage as the population at large.
Older adults’ embrace of smartphones is among the reasons why they benefit from smart medical devices. The ever-evolving medical devices operate with built-in applications (apps) that connect to smartphones and other digital devices via Bluetooth, which provides a wireless connection between electronic devices.
Smart hearing aids, or “hearables,” are examples of medical devices that operate via apps and smartphones. The apps give their users more control over their hearing aids and makes users less noticeable when making adjustments. The apps help with several tasks, including adjusting the volume and settings based on location, and saving this information for the future. The apps can also track misplaced hearing aids and stream from smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices.
Manufacturers have integrated artificial intelligence (AI) into their hearing aids to better assist users. GN ReSound, for example, has smart ‘hearables’ that feature AI and Apple’s Siri assistant. Users can stream audio, answer phones, and ask Siri to adjust the volume in one or both ears. In addition, Starkey’s Livio AI hearing aids can detect when the user falls.
Older adults who do not want to wear a traditional medical alert necklace or bracelet may prefer wearing a smartwatch with a PERS instead. These smartwatches help manage a user’s health and well-being with features that include GPS tracking, location detection, and movement sensors. The devices also have health apps to monitor calories burned, heartbeats, heart rates, weight, and more.
In an emergency, the watches, which use a WiFi or cellular network connection, can place calls to emergency response companies or the user can press a button to get help. Great Call’s Lively Wearable 2, for instance, is a medical alert system that looks like a smartwatch. When the wearer needs help, the person presses a button and an app on a smartphone connects the person to Lively’s 5Star Urgent Response Service.
The Apple Watch Series 4 smartwatch also has fall-detection technology as well as an electrocardiogram (ECG) app. This “first-ever” ECG app allows wearers to receive a heart rhythm classification in 30 seconds. The ECG app can determine regular or irregular heart beats. The app stores the heart rhythm classifications in PDF form and wearers can share the information with their doctors.
Traditional Medical Devices Get an Upgrade
As seniors embrace technology, companies are designing more stylish smart medical devices to make it easier for adults to interact with and wear without feeling like an “old person.”
The updated devices are distinguishable from traditional devices. Smart hearing aids, for example, are not as bulky and visible as traditional hearing aids. So, hearing aid wearers can discreetly make adjustments to their smart ‘hearables’. Rather than taking hearing aids out of their ears or keeping them in their ears to manipulate the devices, hearing aid users can make changes via their smartphones without others knowing what they are doing.
Technology that targets seniors will continue to evolve since older adults’ interest in technology products is expected to continue, according to AARP. The organization projects that by the year 2030, nearly 132 million adults 50 years old and older will spend up to $84 billion a year on technology products.
Grandchildren, however, should not worry about their grandparents forsaking them for new technology. AARP’s survey also says that grandparents are more likely to purchase a “considerable amount” on tech-focused gifts for their grandchildren.